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The Broadway Observer
by Susan Haskins
TONY PREDICTIONS, 2002
It has not been a great Broadway season. Unlike last year, there weren't any breakout hits, save for "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty." This is reflected in the TONY nominations where there aren't as many outstanding front-runners.
The nominees are
o "Mamma Mia!"
o "Sweet Smell of Success"
o "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
The "Mamma Mia!" curtain call is the most upbeat experience I've had in a theater since "The Producers." The problem is that you've got to sit through over two hours of a slight soap-operaesque book and TWENTY-ONE Abba Tunes to get to that part.
"Sweet Smell of Success" is the most pithy and ambitious show this season. The book by John Guare is involving and there also are some good performances. The problem is that this show is based on a cult film that everyone reveres, and it just can't live up to the source material.
(Compare this to the reception of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," which most people consider to be a vast improvement on the movie that inspired it. This perception works in the stage version's favor.)
Ben Brantley of "The New York Times" gave "Sweet Smell" an inordinately negative review, calling it a "narcotic concoction" which induced him to "nod off." Most other critics joined him in panning it, and now "Sweet Smell" doesn't have a chance.
Brantley didn't like "Thoroughly Modern Millie" much either. (He compared watching it to being "stampeded by circus ponies.") However, by the time "Millie" opened in April, Broadway was desperate for a hit; most of the other critics embraced the far-from-perfect show, and made "Millie" the surprise of the year. It has received the most TONY nominations of any show this season.
"Millie" is safe, tolerable and the most likely of its competitors to have a successful tour. It is sufficiently mainstream in its appeal, so that road promoters feel it could do well.
The touring prospects of a show cannot be underestimated in considering its TONY Award chances. A significant block of the TONY voters are "out-of-town presenters," and they are going to support the show that they see as making them some money down the line. "Mamma Mia!" is already a cash cow on the road, so the out-of-town voters will give the nod to "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
The road presenters are very hesitant to back "Urinetown, The Musical," which as its title indicates, might not be an easy sell in the family-oriented Broadway tour market.
When I first saw "Urinetown" last summer, it was playing Off-Broadway, where it had transferred from the Downtown Fringe Festival. At that time, despite its wonderful staging, tuneful score and talented cast - I was put-off by its snideatude and didn't care for it.
Now, having sat through all the other offerings of the season, listened to the "Urinetown" CD and seen it again on Broadway, I've developed a more charitable attitude. I find it to be the most season's most commendable musical. It's fresh, original, funny and not based on a movie. This is the type of work I'd like to encourage on Broadway.
The nominees are
o "The Goat or Who is Sylvia" by EDWARD ALBEE
o "TopDog/UnderDog" by SUZAN-LORI PARKS
o "Fortune's Fool" by IVAN TURGENEV, adapted by MIKE POULTON and
o "Metamorphoses" by MARY ZIMMERMAN
o Who should win: The one good solid play of the bunch, "Fortune's Fool." Although Turgenev wrote it 150 years ago, "Fool" never ran on Broadway before, so it qualifies as a new play. Unfortunately, it's not likely the TONY voters will support an old play by a dead Russian. That would hardly reflect well on the state of modern drama in America.
o What will win: It's up in the air, but my informal polling shows it'll likely be "The Goat or Who is Sylvia." It's "in" to like Albee again, so the industry will give him the TONY, more to honor the playwright than the play.
The Pulitzer Prize winner "TopDog/UnderDog" has good actors playing interesting characters and is under the direction of the masterful GEORGE C. WOLFE. However the play itself feels unfinished and has a very contrived ending. Parks will get her Best Play TONY another year.
The strength of "Metamorphoses" is in its look and conception, rather than its script. I see MARY ZIMMERMAN a probable winner for BEST DIRECTOR, but not for BEST PLAY.
BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL:
o "Into the Woods"
o What should win: "Oklahoma!" It's a beautifully staged production. Unfortunately Cameron Mackintosh's revival failed to live up to the hype generated by the production when it was a huge hit in London three years ago.
o What will win: "Into the Woods"
In this category, my sense is ""Oklahoma!" lost more than "Into The Woods" won.
BEST REVIVAL OF A PLAY:
o "The Crucible"
o "Mornings at Seven"
o "Private Lives"
o "Noises Off"
o What should win: "Private Lives"
o What will win: "Private Lives," the most entertaining and stylish of the four offerings. It's got fabulous sets and costumes and brisk British acting.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A PLAY:
o ALAN BATES in "Fortune's Fool"
o BILLY CRUDUP in "The Elephant Man"
o LIAM NEESON in "The Crucible"
o ALAN RICKMAN in "Private Lives"
o JEFFREY WRIGHT in "TopDog/UnderDog"
o Who should win: ALAN BATES in "Fortune's Fool"
o Who will win: ALAN BATES his performance as an alcoholic and impoverished Russian aristocrat is transcendently wonderful.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTRESS IN A PLAY:
o KATE BURTON in "Hedda Gabler"
o LINDSAY DUNCAN in "Private Lives"
o LAURA LINNEY in "The Crucible"
o HELEN MIRREN in "Dance of Death"
o MERCEDES RUEHL in "The Goat or Who is Sylvia"
o Who should win: I just can't find a preference here.
o Who will win: Lindsay Duncan in "Private Lives." It's her year.
BEST LEADING ACTRESS in a MUSICAL:
o SUTTON FOSTER in "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
o LOUISE PITRE in "Mamma Mia!"
o NANCY OPEL in "Urinetown"
o JENNIFER LAURA THOMPSON in "Urinetown"
o VANESSA WILLIAMS in "Into the Woods"
o Who should win: JOSEPHINA GABRIELLE of "Oklahoma!"
Unfortunately, she wasn't nominated. The fact that Gabrielle's performed her role, including "Laurey's Dream Ballet," was extraordinary (The ballet is traditionally performed by a dancer who doesn't sing the role). Unfortunately Gabrielle was denied a TONY nomination as part of an industry back-of-the-hand to Cameron Mackintosh's "Oklahoma!" revival.
o Who will win: "Thoroughly Modern Millie's" aggressively perky SUTTON FOSTER
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A LEADING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL:
o GAVIN CREEL OF "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
o JOHN CULLUM of "Urinetown"
o JOHN LITHGOW of "Sweet Smell of Success"
o JOHN McMARTIN in "Into the Woods"
o PATRICK WILSON in "Oklahoma!"
o Who should win: JOHN LITHGOW
o Who will win: JOHN CULLUM doing a comic turn as an evil businessman
(Note: The last two answers could easily be reversed.)
Lithgow had a long distinguished career in the theater before he became a sit-com star, and the TONY voters could reward him for that. If Lithgow doesn't win, "Sweet Smell of Success" posts its closing notice Monday (It may anyway), so I supported him
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A PLAY:
o KATE BURTON in "The Elephant Man"
o KATIE FINNERAN in "Noises Off"
o ELIZABETH FRANZ in "Morning's at Seven"
o ESTELLE PARSONS in "Morning's at Seven"
o FRANCES STERNHAGEN in "Morning's at Seven"
o Who should win: ESTELLE PARSONS in "Morning's at Seven"
o Who Will Win: KATIE FINNERAN
The "Morning's at Seven" actresses will cancel each other out. In NOISES OFF Finneran is a big blonde babe, running around in a black corset. Her performance in "Noises Off" has been the subject of great praise all season. Whatever.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY:
o FRANK LANGELLA in "Fortune's Fool"
o WILLIAM BIFF McGUIRE "Morning's at Seven"
o BRIAN MURRAY in "Morning's at Seven"
o SAM ROBARDS in "The Man Who Had All the Luck"
o STEPHEN TOBOLOWSKY in "Morning's at Seven"
o Who should win: FRANK LANGELLA
o Who will win: FRANK LANGELLA. He's a joy to watch in "Fortune's Fool"
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL:
o LAURA BENANTI in "Into the Woods"
o HARRIET HARRIS in "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
o SPENCER KAYDEN in "Urinetown"
o JUDY KAYE in "Mamma Mia!"
o ANDREA MARTIN in "Oklahoma!"
o Who should win: Everyone in this category is great; it's hard to chose. I might have voted for any of them, except Laura Benanti. She's lovely in "Woods" as Cinderella, but not in the league of the others.
Many pundits are predicting BENANTI, a 22-year-old babe in a field of mostly middle-aged character actresses, will in fact be the winner.
o Who will win: HARRIET HARRIS as part of the "Millie" momentum, and also because it's a way to reward to a well liked and appealing character actress.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL:
o NORBERT LEO BUTZ in "Thou Shalt Not"
o GREGG EDELMAN in "Into the Woods"
o SHULER HENSLY in "Oklahoma!"
o BRIAN D'ARCY JAMES in "Sweet Smell of Success"
o MARC KUDISH in "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
o Who should win: SHULER HENSLEY
o Who will win: SHULER HENSLEY
This is another strong category in which everybody is good. However Hensley's sympathetic interpretation of the "Oklahoma!" villain, Jud Fry, has been garnering him support for some time now.
BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL:
o JAMES LAPINE, "Into the Woods"
o MICHAEL MAYER, "Thoroughly Modern Millie"
o TREVOR NUNN, "Oklahoma!"
o JOHN RANDO, "Urinetown"
o Who should win: MICHAEL MAYER for making "Thoroughly Modern Millie" the TONY winner.
o Who will win: MICHAEL MAYER
BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY:
o HOWARD DAVIES, "Private Lives"
o RICHARD EYRE, "The Crucible"
o DANIEL SULLIVAN, "Morning's at Seven"
o MARY ZIMMERMAN, "Metamorphoses"
o Who should win: George C. Wolfe, another non-nominee, for turning the sketchy "TopDog/UnderDog" into a TONY-nominated Pulitzer Prize winner.
o Who will win: ZIMMERMAN for "Metamorphoses" or DAVIES for "Private Lives."
"Metamorphoses" is charming story-theater, staged in a pool. It's lovely to look at and the pool is a great gimmick. Zimmerman conceived, transcribed, adapted and shaped the piece. This contribution makes her a good bet.
In addition to "Private Lives," Davies did the very popular "Iceman Cometh" revival two years ago, and this could get him additional support
As for the other awards, "Urinetown" will get the consolation prizes of BEST BOOK and BEST SCORE.
I'm choosing "Into The Woods" for BEST COSTUMES (Because of the fabulous cow suit), "Private Lives" for BEST SET and "Oklahoma!"- for BEST LIGHTING and I believe the other TONY voters will as well.
SUSAN STROMAN will probably get BEST CHOREOGRAPHY again, this year for "Oklahoma;" and Douglas Besterman with the late Ralph Burns will get BEST ORCHESTRATION for "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
"Elaine Stritch: At Liberty" this season's only unqualified critical success will get the BEST SPECIAL THEATRICAL EVENT Award. If this show had been eligible for more TONY categories like Best Musical, Best Actress/Musical, Best Director/Musical, Best Book, it would have won a lot of them
As it is, I'm looking forward to Stritch's acceptance more than anything else at this year's TONYS ceremony. I anticipate it will provoke the most enthusiastic and heartfelt response that night from the audience at Radio City. [sHask]
Copyright © Susan Haskins, 2002. Ms. Haskins is co- host of the TV show, "Theater Talk" on Thirteen/WNET (New York City's PBS affiliate).
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